A/N: I don't own Merlin. That was the luck of the BBC.
I'm back to hurt Merlin some more. He seems to be my metaphorical (and yes, physical) punching bag right now (sorry not sorry)
It's been a couple of weeks since my last post, I have a terrible problem of starting stories then getting bored of them and just abandoning them, and I really, really don't want to be one of those people who post half a story and people are left waiting years for the ending. So I make sure my stories are finished or nearly finished before posting them, so I'll probably have month-long gaps followed by lots of updates.
"You want my servant?" Arthur gaped. "You have knights, you have the bloody King of Camelot, and you want that idiot over there?"
Had there not been three inch steel bars separating him and the sneering guard, Arthur would've delivered a swift blow to the hairy buffoon's ugly face, knocking him out. Had there also not been three inch steel bars, four feet of cold, grey stone corridor, and yet three more inches of metal between him and his oddly quiet manservant, Arthur would've stood protectively in front of Merlin, shielding him from whatever the hell these people wanted with him.
It had only been a patrol, a patrol like any other. Arthur had been grateful to get out of the stuffy atmosphere of the castle and away from his life that nowadays seemed to be filled with endless council meetings with lords older than the brickwork and enough paperwork to fill a library. Gwaine had recounted his latest conquest, a barmaid aptly named Chastity, and the King had attempted to tune him out, briefly catching the occasional titbit such as 'and you wouldn't believe what she could do with a jug of mead'. Merlin had whined he was cold, Merlin had whined he was tired, Merlin whined about having to come out on patrol, as per usual, and Merlin had had one of his usual 'funny feelings'.
That was moments before they found themselves surrounded by more men than they could count, well maybe more than Gwaine could count. Although it was very likely that the drunk would be seeing double (which would make up for his lack of numerical skills).
Arthur was so angry with himself, if he'd listened to Merlin, if he'd fought a little harder, if he'd taken more men, if he'd left his bumbling servant at home like every other noble did…
"Arthur it's OK. I'll be fine." Merlin smiled at Arthur, the grin not quite reaching his eyes in its usual manner. Arthur simply ignored him. It didn't make any sense why whoever was holding them wanted a servant, and not someone with detailed knowledge of the inner workings of Camelot. Sometimes he thought that Merlin didn't know his arse from his elbow. 'He's someone who has had no resistance training to torture' a small voice mused which Arthur quickly silenced.
He didn't know who these people were, but the fact that they were now in what seemed like quite an intricate little prison wasn't a good sign. They had swerved down thousands of interconnecting halls like a giant maze as the guards led them to their tiny cells. Three on each side, Arthur had been thrust into the middle cell, adjacent to Leon and Elyan; Merlin, Percival and Gwaine mirroring them across the corridor.
"Honestly, you wouldn't want him." Arthur continued, ignoring Merlin's quiet protests. "He's a useless manservant, he's usually late, ridiculously clumsy, spends most of his nights down the tavern…" Arthur trailed off when he realised the oaf wasn't listening to him, but flicking through several old, worn keys hanging on a rusty hoop.
"Shut it, if you know what's good for you. Don't care if you're the King." The guard, who until now had been silent holding a flaming torch, glared at Arthur, something unsettling deep within his gaze when he spoke. "My lord wishes only to speak with the boy." He grinned, his rotten teeth illuminated by the flame. It was unlike any smile he had seen before. A thousand times Arthur had seen Merlin smile, a smile so pure, so full of joy and happiness it made his heart warm looking at it. This smile was unlike Merlin's. It was cold, disturbing, and seemed to suck all joy from the world.
"Let's go, pretty face." The guard with the keys tugged on Merlin's arm, forcing him out of the cell and in to the corridor, the warlock's pale skin glowing orange next to the fire. Arthur had been sure to voice his objection, as had Gwaine, both unhappy to say the least about letting the boy out of their sight and into the arms of whatever monster held them captive. Arthur, naturally, had tried to diplomatically talk Merlin out of the guards' hands and back with them where he was a hundred times safer with five pairs of eyes watching and protecting him, whilst Gwaine had begun yelling nonsensical threats at the men.
"I'll be fine." Merlin looked back at him though there was an air of fear around the boy, like he was trying to convince himself as well as the others. Arthur watched in disbelief as the trio stumbled down the uneven stone path and out of sight.
"Merlin!" Arthur called once more though he knew it to be futile. He slumped against the wall at the back of his cell – cage – defeated. "Do you think he'll be all right?" He murmured softly to no one.
"He'll be alright. He's Merlin." Came the even softer reply of Percival, absentmindedly playing with his hands, a small smile threatening to appear on his lips. The knight didn't know how wrong he'd be.
Arthur said nothing, as did everyone else, all lost in thought. He shut his eyes, praying for sleep but none would come, not with the whirlwind of worry storming in the pit of his stomach. There was no telling how long it had been, however he could determine it was still night as no light shone through the one window high above, about as large as a single brick, as footsteps approached the cells once again.
He leapt to his feet faster than ever before, clutching the bars so firmly his knuckles must be turning white. Various sounds of the others doing the same thing rang through the small cell block. There was no torchbearer this time – the guard and, hopefully, Merlin walked in the pitch black silence. He let out a breath he didn't realise he'd been holding in when there was a grunt and the thud of a body hitting the floor, followed by the cell door swinging shut and a pair of footsteps fading into the distance.
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